Howdah pistol (courtesy hallowelico.com)

Underneath our post Palm Beach Zoo Tiger Kills Keeper: It Should Have Been a Defensive Gun Use, TTAG commentators theorized what pistol they’d carry as a zookeeper working around tigers. A couple of clued-in pistoleros recommended the Howdah pistol, a firearm about which I knew nothing. So I surfed the web for the 411 on the Howdah, of which I’ll share with you. Let’s start with a particularly well-written entry at wikipedia.org . . .

The howdah pistol was a large-calibre handgun, often with two or four barrels, used in India and Africa from the beginning of the nineteenth century, and into the early twentieth century, during the period of British Colonial rule. It was typically intended for defence against tigers, lions, and other dangerous animals that might be encountered in remote areas. Multi-barreled breech-loading designs were later favoured over the original muzzle-loading designs for Howdah pistols, because they offered faster reloading than was possible with contemporary revolvers, which had to be loaded and unloaded through a gate in the side of the frame.

Howdah ya like that> (courtesy hollwelico.com)

The term “howdah pistol” comes from the howdah, a large platform mounted on the back of an elephant. Hunters, especially during the period of the British Raj in India, used howdahs as a platform for hunting wild animals and needed large-calibre side-arms for protection from animal attacks. The practice of hunting from the howdah basket on top of an Asian elephant was first made popular by the joint Anglo-Indian, East India Company during the 1790s.

These earliest howdah pistols were flintlock designs, and it was not until about 60 years later percussion models in single or double barrel congfiguration were seen. By the 1890s and early 1900s cartridge firing and fully rifled howdah pistols were in normal everyday use.

Howdah ammo (courtesy hallowelico.com)

The first breech-loading howdah pistols were little more than sawn-off rifles, typically in .577 Snider or .577 [above]/450 Martini–Henry calibre. Later English firearms makers manufactured specially-designed howdah pistols in both rifle calibres and more conventional handgun calibres such as .455 Webleyand .476 Enfield.

Howdah pistol (courtesy halloweli.com)

As a result, the term “howdah pistol” is often applied to a number of English multi-barrelled handguns such as the Lancaster pistol (available in a variety of calibres from .380″ to .577″), and various .577 calibre revolvers produced in England and Europe for a brief time in the mid-late 19th century.

Even though howdah pistols were designed for emergency defense from dangerous animals in Africa and India, British officers adopted them for personal protection in other far-flung outposts of the British Empire. By the late 19th century, top-break revolvers in more practical calibres (such as .455 Webley) had become widespread, removing much of the traditional market for howdah pistols.

The traditional market for the Howdah pistol may have disappeared — or not, given how less developed countries still use guns from hundreds of years ago — but there’s a market for reproduction guns.

Davide Perdosoli Howdah Hunter (courtesy cabelas.com)

Davide Pedersoli makes the engraved Howdah Hunter [above] and Howdah Hunter Kombo. The Hunter is available in .50, .58 and 20 gauge. The Kombo chambers 20X.50. A genuine Howdah will run from $1600 to $3500 and up. Cabela’s sells the more “practical” repro Davide Pedersoli Howdah Hunter 20-Ga. pistol for $550 (pith helmet no included). Bonus! Howdah enthusiasts can also buy a funky looking shoulder stock.

Davide Pedersoli Howdah shoulder stock

A Howdah pistol is not a gun to be f*cked with. Here’s a video rife with safety violations that shows you exactly how not to handle one.

New or old, a Howdah pistol seems a bit finicky for a modern day zookeeper. But one thing’s for sure, even if you don’t have a tiger by the tail, shooting this beast will make you think you do.

41 Responses to Obscure Object of Desire: The Howdah Pistol

  1. Didn’t know Pedersoli was making the repros…
    Would you stop doing articles on cool things!
    My bank accounts suffer.

    • It appears that one has to jump through the NFA hoops to convert even a pre-1898 gun to an SBS. I have a nice old damascus bbl’d pre-98 double I thought I’d whack down to 14″.

      Did some research; every site on the topic said a cut-down shotgun enters NFA territory even it was made shortly after the Civil War. Breechloaders, of course.

      Now…is simple possession of a 14″ 870 barrel a crime?

        • That depends on what mood BATFE Special Agent McSweeney is in when he finds a sawed off shotgun in your trunk.

          “It was made before 1898!”

          “Yeah, right. Now assume the position while I read you your Miranda rights. No sudden moves, now.”

    • About that Damascus barrel –

      The layers look to be a spiral, was a rope of steel wrapped around a mandrel?

      • Correct. The damascus is forged into a strip, then the strip is wound around a mandrel and the edge of the strip is forge-welded to the prior turn around the mandrel.

  2. Sure, why carry something affordable and practical (and definitely capable of doing the job on large game) like a Glock 29 or S&W .44 magnum when you can carry something ridiculous like a “Howdah Pistol”.

    Somewhere baby jesus is crying.

    • The guy looked down the barrel about a half dozen times, and pointed it kinda behind him instead of downrange at a few points whilst loading it.

        • It had a primer on it for several of those instances. He could easily have died several times.

      • Not to mention the ball drops out of one of the barrels. Of course, let’s not take the percussion caps back off first before reloading the ball.

    • Here is a brief rundown:

      1. Using four times the manufacturer recommended powder load

      2. Loading with the hammer off the cone, allowing oxygen to enter the breach

      3. Ramming with his thumb and palm over the top of the ramrod instead of holding it by the middle

      4. Looking down the barrel of a loaded gun

      He could have lost an appendage several times, and his head at least once.

      • 4x the recommended load? I can’t see that. An 1860 Army in .44 carries a recommended load of 30 grains, and can be loaded to 35 without risk. My 1861 Colt had a manufacturer’s recommended load of 15 grains, which wasn’t enough to get the ball past the forcing cone. It needs 20, and could be loaded to 25, though that would degrade accuracy. And that is only a .36 cal. This is a .50 or .58 cal firearm, and you’d need at least 50 to have any effect on a tiger; heck, you need that much to down a deer. Although I cannot find the spec on the Perdersoli web site, I would think it would recommend 50 and could easily be loaded to 70 safely. With his reputation, I would guess that it would take well north of 100 grains to exceed the strength of the barrel steel.

        And what is this bit about getting air in the barrel by leaving the hammer at half cock? Utter nonsense. First of all, what do you think is happening when you are pouring powder down the barrel? Second, you cannot load a black powder revolver UNLESS the pistol is at half cock, since you have to a) rotate the cylinder to load the next round, which can only be done when it is half cocked, and b) rotate the cylinder to get it to line up with the ram, and c) have it back while applying the caps. So if this was really an issue, all black powder revolvers would not be safe to load.

        • The procedure is to charge the piece, and only then place the hammer on half cock to remove the old cap and seat the new one.

          This ensures that you are not placing your hands over the muzzle with the possibility of oxygen entering the breach and a hot barrel causing a cookoff.

          Even with a revolver, you are not setting the hammer to half cock and removing the old cap until after you have loaded the cylinder and your hands are away from the muzzle..

          Granted, the chance of loading with the hammer at half cock is a small risk, but it’s not how the manuals detail loading. It is also not a hazzard on the first shot, but doing things the same way every time is good practice.

  3. The muzzleloader Howdah pistol is a decent idea, but impractical. Be better off buying a Century double barrel 12 gauge and asking the BATFE, who then take 4 months to reply with a yes/no if you can turn it into an SBS.

    Or you can just buy one and chop it down like the gangbangers already do and just not tell anybody about it. Because them gangbangers don’t give a f*ck what the ATF says they can and can’t do.

    I like a break action double barrel “howdah pistol” more because it’s easy enough to reload brass shotgun shells with black powder and lead shot. Just have to bang out the primer with a long punch and hammer and replace with a new primer, load the powder in with a scoop measure, load the shot, and put a wad in over that with some sealant.

    That’s better than a muzzleloader.

    • If I were to do this I would find a double barrel rifle action and try to buy the receiver “in the raw” with no stock ever fitted to it. At that point you can make it into what you please. Then again doing that you’d end up with what amounted to a double barrel Thompson Contender.

      Then again that gives me flashbacks of that 80s movie, Hard Target was it?

  4. How about a T/C Contender in a useful rifle caliber or a Mare’s Leg lever action? Or just a Dirty Harry fat S&W? Oh that’s right, these animal rights groups and employees are mostly left leaning “it’s not the Tigers fault” kinda folks. Just be nice to him. Like what’s his name that became Kodiak Bear Buffett a few years ago,,….

  5. I have a cap-lock .50 as a match to a rifle of the same bore size.

    It is not a Howda, but close enough, and makes for a fine range-toy.

    Haven’t fired it yet this warm weather season, but it will make it’s annual pilgrimage, along
    with it’s big brother, some time in the coming months. I love the smell of black powder in
    the morning!

  6. Here’s an idea. Instead of buying an expensive and obsolete pistol. Don’t play big and dangerous game whisperer.

    Unless you just want the pistol for shits and giggles. Have at it. Just stay out of tiger cages.

  7. Not to be a jerk, but the picture of a cartridge above the quote “.577 [above]/450 Martini–Henry calibre” is labeled as a .577 Boxer if you follow the image link to the source material. I only found this out after googling .577/450 Martini-Henry, as I was interested for more info on that cartridge.

  8. Did he just glance down the barrel? Oh no he dint! But he did….azzole. I quit watching it. Not that I expected anything less.

  9. I have looked at these a couple of times in Cabelas. Very cool “fun” guns.
    Sometimes its not just about practical guns

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